Matt Bishop | May 17th, 2019
Every baseball season, we see a few new names at the top of the early leader-boards and some familiar faces. No matter the player or prospect pedigree, most hot starts fall off, while the elite can maintain and finish on a high note. But how can we tell if a hot April is sustainable or just a hot streak? Digging into a player’s profile can tell you if they are doing something they have never done before. Here are three players that are currently breaking out.
Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF LAD
No one was talking about Bellinger going into the 2019 baseball season. After taking home Rookie of the Year Honors in 2017 and setting the ceiling for Rookie performances, Bellinger came back down to earth in 2018 and was a forgotten man. Not only was he not mentioned as a breakout coming into 2019, but he was barely talked about at all prior to fantasy draft season. This is very similar to Javier Baez’s breakout in 2018 being that no one was talking about Bellinger or even had him on their radar. So let’s check in on Bellinger’s breakout:
Bellinger is the only player in baseball with a .400 average and is currently 47 points ahead of the next hitter (Jeff McNeil .354). He is also leading baseball in On-base Percentage by 23 points, wOBA by 21 points and wRC+ by 20 points. But you know this because it has been discussed everywhere. But there’s more. There’s patience and plate discipline:
Let’s not even use his disappointing 2018 season. Let’s discuss his 2017 campaign, where he took home Rookie of the Year Honors and established himself as one of the premier power hitters in the game. His chase rate, or o-swing is down 2.0% from 2017, while his overall contact rate is up 12%. His swinging strike rate has plummeted almost 6% and his contact rates have increased across the board to career high marks. Not only has become a well rounded hitter, but he is proving to be a power hitter with elite plate discipline. This is a breakout and this is sustainable. BUY HIGH.
George Springer, OF HOU
I have never been a big Springer guy. Drafted early and often for a ceiling he has never touched, I have never seen the appeal in his skill set. I was also shocked to see that he has never finished a season with a .900 OPS or above and has relied on his home run totals to boost his wRC+. But that might be changing as he may be arriving:
Springer is a model of consistency and health, playing in 140+ games with 620+ plate appearances in 3 straight seasons. Springer has quietly raised his walk rate 1.2% to his highest BB rate in the last 3 years. His fly-ball rate is a career high, while his hard contact rate is among the top two percent in baseball. He is also barreling the ball 16.4% which is Top 7% in the league, while his exit velo (91.9) is up more than three mph from 2018:
While he is chasing pitches at a career low 21.5%, his plate discipline metrics are scary and could mean he’s selling out for power. His contact rates have drastically dropped in his last three seasons, while his swinging strike rate is right around his career high:
He has always struggled against breaking pitches, but is currently mashing against them, hitting .396 against breaking pitches this year versus .278 last season. He is also a career .223 hitter against sliders, but is hitting .389 against them this year. He is remaining more patient against the slide piece, sitting at a 28.0% o-swing, while his career mark is 31.4%.
Whatever he is doing, it’s working. So let him do him. Springer slashed .274/.363/.564 (.927) in March/April and currently sits atop the league leaders at almost every major statistical category. He may be reaching that potential that we have long hoped for.
Jorge Polanco, SS MIN
Never considered a household name and up until 2018 when he was suspended for 80 games for PEDs, I honestly had never heard of Polanco or had him on my radar. But the Twins saw something in his skill set, standing by him through the PED suspension and awarding him with a five-year/$25.75 million contract extension in the off-season and buying out his arbitration years. This investment is paying dividends, as Polanco has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises.
Polanco is currently slashing .333/.398/.617 (1.015) on the season with 8 HR 25 R 20 RBI and has helped carry the Minnesota Twins to 1st place in the AL Central. His 9.4% BB rate is a career high, while his 13.8% strikeout rate is a career low. He has never turned in a wRC+ higher than 110, which is pretty much a league average player. His wRC+ currently sits at 165, which is the 8th best mark in baseball.
Hit batted ball profile is also extremely encouraging as he is hitting the ball in the air 51.1% of the time, while never exceeding 42.8% at any time in his career. His 23.0% ground-ball rate is also eye-popping when you realize that he has never been under 32.8% in his career. His 42.0% hard contact rate is also a career best and shattered his previous career high of 32.1%.
While Polanco is in fact chasing more pitches outside of the strike zone (28.7%), he is also making more contact outside of the zone. His 85.2% contact rate is well above league average (76.0%), while his 6.6% swinging strike rate is well below league average (11.0%). He is also massively struggling this season against sliders, hitting only .158 against them when he is a career .293 hitter against sliders. Based on his struggles against sliders, there is still potential in his profile if he can even creep back up to his career numbers against the slide piece. That is scary.
But that isn’t even the juicy part. Let’s take a look at his stat-cast numbers:
His 10.1% Barrel percentage is up an incredible 6.4% from 2018, while is exit velo is up almost six mph. His 21.9 degree launch angle is up almost 6.4 degrees and these changes in his batted ball profile are putting him in an elite category of hitter.
Polanco is either back on PEDs or has changed his swing and catered to launch angle. Based on the hefty penalties and suspensions for PED use, I would assume the latter. But no matter what the change, Polanco has tapped into something special and should continue to carry this impressive Twins team for years to come.
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images